Online retail giant Amazon announced plans for a second corporate headquarters Thursday — and already a number of cities have launched into seduction mode.
In its request for proposals, the company touts a $38 billion investment in Seattle (where its flagship HQ is) between 2010 and 2016, and says it’s been a “catalyst for development” downtown. For the second campus, which could eventually be up to 8 million square feet, Amazon has said it’s open to either an urban or suburban location, but lists direct access to public transit at the site as a “core preference.” It plans to hire as many as 50,000 new full-time employees for the location.
Amazon’s ideal second home city also has more than 1 million people and offers a “business-friendly environment,” which some read as code for “tax breaks.” Amazon has been criticized for the tax breaks it has received in the past, particularly to build fulfillment centers, where workers tend to receive half the wages of traditional manufacturing jobs. One of the cities intending to pursue the second headquarters, Baltimore, already gifted the company a $100,000 forgivable loan to pay for shuttles to a fulfillment center.
Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that tracks government subsidies and promotes public accountability nationwide, offers caution to cities vying to put forward the best bid.
“Taxpayers should watch their wallets as the trophy deal of the decade attracts politicians to a hyper-sophisticated tax-break auction,” Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy said in a statement. “We fear that many states and localities will offer to grossly overspend to attract Amazon, even though the business basics — especially a metro area’s executive talent pool — will surely control the company’s decision.”
It’s too early to know how much mayors and governors will heed LeRoy’s advice. Many officials rushed to social media and news outlets to start a hard sell. Here’s a sampling of how five cities Thursday looked to distinguish themselves and lure what they see as a dream date.
Philly Mayor Jim Kenney went with the charm of a grade-school Valentine’s Day card, and deployed a precision pun.
We think Philadelphia would be a PRIME location for Amazon that would make people SMILE! Look forward to submitting a proposal! https://t.co/l60Wn5BVdg— Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) September 7, 2017
Curbed Philly, which wondered aloud where exactly such a headquarters would go, reports that a spokesperson for the mayor touted: “Philadelphia would provide them with a perfectly located East Coast hub where they have access to a rapidly growing millennial talent pool.”
The Windy City seems to be going with “Who us and Amazon? Oh, we go waaaaay back.” On Thursday, a spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Tribune that the mayor “has spoken with [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos several times about picking Chicago.”
The Tribune notes that Amazon already has an office and distribution center presence in the region, and a rep who works on economic development for Illinois told the paper that the state “has a wonderful relationship with Amazon.”
Tulsa’s mayor, G.T. Bynum, is laying everything on the table. His Facebook post about going after the headquarters was action movie tagline (with a tinge of desperation probably best left out of an online dating profile).
Bynum told the Tulsa World, “We recognize the competitive pool we are wading into here, but Tulsa’s history is that of a city that punches above its weight.”
Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms is hoping work-life balance — with a heavy emphasis on “life” — will push his beachside city into the running, despite lacking a few (read: nearly all) of the attributes on Amazon’s wish list, including a larger population, nonstop flights to the West Coast and mass transit.
“We are going after it at full speed. Everyone should be in the greatest city in the world,” Sessoms told The Virginian-Pilot, adding that “a beach lifestyle” would give the company a recruiting boost.
Amid what’s shaping up to be a team effort — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said, “We were successful with one big, million-square-foot Amazon deal already, and we’re going to try to convince them that we’re still the place to look” — Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh played it fairly cool. On Twitter, hers was a more “I’m amazing, so take me as I am,” approach.
These are all just initial winks, of course. Oct. 19 is the deadline for full proposals to Amazon.
Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in the most upper-left corner of the country. She writes about urban policy, equitable development and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) with a focus on solutions-oriented journalism. She is a former associate editor and current contributing editor at Next City.